From the large blocks to the rods, Schmidt explains, the bartenders can adapt the shape and size of the ice to the cocktail, which, in turn, “gives us the ability to control temperature and dilution. It gives us more accuracy for hitting that hypothetical sweet spot in the presentation of a cocktail, with just the right amount of dilution.”
The process also involves what Schmidt calls “wash lines,” the imaginary line a bartender learns to find on the inside of a cocktail tin or glassware that helps him control the dilution of water in the cocktail, and its temperature.
“So, in the glass, you’ll be able to see the wash line rise to a certain point. If it’s under that line, we know it’s too strong and not cold enough, and if it’s over that line, it might be freezing cold, but it could be too watered down. That’s why we have the different-sized pieces of ice. The wash lines vary with the shape, size, and presentation of our cocktails.”
Noble Experiment also has an in-house icemaker that makes cloudier ice. “We use this ice for a preparation for shaking cocktails, or, in the case of the martini I like to make, I use it to stir. Because the customer doesn’t see it in the cocktail glass, it’s not as much of a concern what the ice looks like, although the bartender has to accommodate his wash line, remembering that with more bubbles, the ice will melt faster.”
Using his favorite martini recipe as an example, Schmidt demonstrates how the wash-line process works.
“I prefer a three-to-one ratio of gin to vermouth, rather than the two-to-one we make for our house dry martini,” he says as he begins cracking the ice into manageable chunks and tossing them into the pint glass that serves as mixing vessel. With it goes:
- 2 ¼ oz. Plymouth Gin
- 3.4 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
- 1 dash orange bitters
Why Plymouth? “Because it’s approachable — it’s lower in proof and not as harsh.” Using an hourglass-shaped tin jigger, Schmidt caps it into the mixing glass. “I’m also going to add a couple dashes of orange bitters.”
Keeping his eyes on the stirring glass, he reaches for another rod of ice and smashes out more cubes with a few deft swipes of a kitchen knife, scoring a direct hit as he tosses each chunk into the glass.
As he stirs the contents, he keeps a level eye riveted to the glassy crunch and rattle of the mini-maelstrom he’s creating.
“As I’m watching the wash line come up, it’s diluting to the proper temperature,” he says. The water level begins to inch upward in the glass. “As I’m doing this, I’m also beginning to think about where my glassware and strainer are, and where my garnish might be.”
After about 35 seconds of steady stirring, he jerks the long-stemmed spoon from the glass, lets the contents sit for a minute, grabs an eye dropper from under the bar, and dips it into the glass. He squirts a small amount into his mouth and throws the dropper away. As he steps away from the shaker, Schmidt takes a thoughtful pause — his eyes make a slow barrel roll in their sockets — and then he nods.
“I’m tasting for temperature and for dilution. When I do this, if it’s very strong, I might stir it a couple more times. This one, now, it’s at a pretty good temperature.”
Placing a strainer over the stirring glass’s mouth, he brings the vessel close to the frosted stemware — a squat coupe — he’s placed on the bar beside it. The pour is long, as steady and smooth as water flowing from a slow underground spring.
“I like to strain low to the glass. That way there are no bubbles, and the only texture you’re going to get is the same as if it’s straight out of the bottle, as it was intended to be.”
For the final touches, he curls out a ¾-inch swath of lemon rind with a paring knife. As if casting a silent spell over the drink, he moves the rind in an arc above the diameter of the rim, pinching it in half lengthwise as he goes.
“I’m spraying the twist from either side, because part of the aroma will sit on top of the glass, but also on the sides of the glass.” He kisses the rim with the rind, drops it into the drink, and pushes it toward me. “When you grab and touch the glass, as you are doing now with your hand, you still get that wonderful aroma from the twist, and it stays with you.”
It not only stays with you. If the well-done martini works like a diamond-cutter on the senses, then Anthony Schmidt’s martini turns each sip into a 12-karat experience.
1503 30th Street, South Park
(No longer in business.)
South Park’s Alchemy Cultural Fare & Cocktails is located in a corner building that faces the neighborhood’s sleepy main street. This is as it should be. As part of its mission, the restaurant has sought to proffer itself as an accessible, sustainable resource for the community ever since it opened in 2008.
Once inside, the visitor is greeted by sprawling silver steel limbs with golden metal tassels that dangle from an art installation — a metal tree — that has become Alchemy’s official trademark. Sculpted by area artist Todd Williams, the 15-foot-tall work of seamless welding sprouts from a muscular trunk through the floor in the middle of the restaurant’s dining space. Its limbs climb to the ceiling, serving as a glittering canopy for diners and imbibers, and also as a chaotic counterpoint to the Apollonian cylinders and lines that dominate the decor, which is crowned by exposed ductwork streaking above Alchemy’s bar.
To the left of Williams’s armored arboretum, Alchemy’s S-shaped stone bar top stretches across more than a third of the restaurant. It is from behind this serpentine serving area that head chef Ricardo Heredia has become one of San Diego’s first avatars of an avant-garde foodie trend — the “chef’s cocktail.”